Saturday, 16 January 2077

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Monday, 23 January 2017

Who is the Last Jedi?

Lucasfilm have confirmed that the next Star Wars movie, to be released in December 2017, will be called The Last Jedi. It's an interesting but also slightly confusing title choice because there are more candidates for this role then you'd think.

Who is the Last Jedi?

This is a much more complicated question than it initially appears, mainly because the definition of "Jedi" itself seems to be a bit questionable. Who gets to determine who is a Jedi and who isn't?

One thing that is clear is that not every single Force-user is a Jedi or Sith. During the Clone Wars there were only 10,000 Jedi Knights and Masters, out of a galaxy with a population of quadrillions. Even with only a tiny decimal of a single percentage point being able to use the Force, that's still millions upon millions of potential Force-users at large in the galaxy at any one time. Therefore the suggestion from the original trilogy that Yoda, Luke and Obi-Wan were the only light side Force-users of any significance in the galaxy, and the Emperor and Vader were the only dark side Force users of any significance in the galaxy, was already highly doubtful. What was more likely meant was that Yoda, Luke and Obi-Wan were the last Jedi, or the last of that tradition, and Vader and the Emperor were the last Sith. The latter was given more credence in the prequel movies which confirmed that there are only ever two Sith around at one time.

When it comes to the Jedi, there was more of a formal hierarchy in place. The Jedi Council was in charge of promoting people from the rank of Padawan to Jedi Knight, and from Jedi Knight to Jedi Master (and a seat on the council). The Council members therefore had the power to name Jedi. Shortly after the Clone Wars began Obi-Wan Kenobi was promoted to the rank of Jedi Master: more specifically, after the events of Attack of the Clones but by the opening episodes of The Clone Wars animated series, during which time he is already on the Council. Yoda, of course, was already a Master. The entire order of Jedi Knights and Masters was wiped out by Order 66 during the events of Revenge of the Sith, bar only Obi-Wan and Yoda, so as of that time they constituted the entire Jedi Order and the Council.

In Return of the Jedi, after Obi-Wan's death, Yoda is the sole surviving Jedi Master and member of the Council. He officially names Luke Skywalker as a Jedi Knight (although Luke had already been calling himself that to impress Jabba earlier in the movie) mere moments before his death, and that seems as official as things need to be.

What happens after that is less clear, but it appears that Luke tried to train a new generation of Jedi apprentices and these were all murdered by Kylo Ren and his Knights of Ren. As far as we know right now, no other Jedi Knights or Masters were named during this time period by Luke. Based on supplementary material and interviews, it appears that Leia, although Force-sensitive, chose not to explore her Force abilities in favour of her political career and thus never entered the Jedi tradition.

This seems pretty straightforward then: as of Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, Luke is the last Jedi. Whether or not he trains Rey and eventually names her a Jedi Knight will, presumably, be an important story point in both The Last Jedi and Episode IX.

(Also, yes, the Force Awakens title craw says outright that Luke is the last Jedi. But that would have been a much shorter article.)

Of course, there are some complications with this.

Ezra Bridger, Kanan Jarrus and Ahsoka Tano during the events of Star Wars: Rebels.

There is another. And another. And another.

Lucasfilm and Disney are very, very clear that the animated spin-off series Star Wars: Rebels is 100% canon even in their new continuity, as is its predecessor series, The Clone Wars. Up to a few months ago, people would have taken that with a pinch of salt, but the movie Rogue One has pretty much enshrined the show in the movie continuity. The starship Ghost shows up in the Rebel Fleet in that movie, the psychotic droid Chopper shows up in the Rebel Base, Hera Syndulla (now a general) is name-checked and the Hammerhead corvettes stolen in Rebels show up and play a key role in destroying two Star Destroyers during the Battle of Scarif.

The problem with this is that Star Wars: Rebels features no less than three Jedi - or light side Force users - in central, key roles and working alongside the nascent Rebel Alliance. As Rebels is aimed a younger viewers, the general assumption is that the show is not going to brutally murder its entire cast as the show draws to a close, which leaves the fate of those characters in doubt and how they relate to the title "Last Jedi".

The most established of the three characters is Ahsoka Tano. She was Anakin Skywalker's padawan apprentice during the Clone Wars and became a skilled and brave member of the Jedi Order. However, some months before the end of the war she was framed for a crime she did not commit. She proved her innocence, but was so disgusted with the Jedi Order not believing her innocence (apart from Anakin) that she quit the order and went into self-imposed exile far across the galaxy, completely missing the end of the war, Order 66 and the rise of the Empire. Crucially, Ahsoka was never made a Jedi Knight, so was not officially considered part of the order. Fifteen years later Ahsoka returns to prominence during the formation of the Rebel Alliance, having become a far more formidable Force-wielder. She injures Darth Vader in single combat (after learning he is really Anakin) and escapes certain death at his hands, but was last seen trapped in a Sith temple on a remote planet. Her fate remains to be explored in Rebels.

The next most-established character is Kanan Jarrus. A padawan during the Clone Wars, Kanan watched his mentor and Jedi Master killed in front of him during Order 66. He barely survived and fled into deep exile and cover. As an apprentice with only light experience, he was forced to improvise his own training. Many years later he joined the Rebel Alliance. During a mission to the planet Lothal he met a young man, Ezra Bridger, who was strong in the Force. Despite misgivings, Kanan started training him as a Jedi, taking him as an effective padawan (despite Kanan himself never being given the rank of Jedi Knight). Kanan's attempts to train Ezra were complicated when he was blinded in a lightsabre duel, leaving Ezra to take more training onto himself...rather dangerously, after Ezra came into possession of a Sith holocron containing forbidden knowledge. This storyline remains in play on Rebels.

Given the events of the original Star Wars trilogy and the newly-revealed title, it seems that what fans had been assuming about Rebels is confirmed: Kanan, Ahsoka and Ezra don't make it to the attention of Luke during the original trilogy and they never become Jedi Knights (or, if they do, they're dead by the time The Last Jedi rolls around). Whether they live, die or survive but are cut off from the Force remains to be seen. However, the show itself does give us a possible explanation. In Season 2 of Rebels it is revealed that the Emperor is not only hunting down former Jedi and apprentices, but also children who show Force abilities. In Season 2 Ezra and Kanan rescue two of these younglings and get them to safety. One way of evading the issue is that either or both of our heroes have to take these younglings into a remote part of the galaxy to help them train. If this is the case, they may have an excuse to sit out the sequel trilogy and may even show up afterwards to help Luke found the nascent new Jedi Order. Another possibility is that Ezra himself turns to the Dark Side and has to be taken down, but this would again be quite dark for a kid-oriented show.

Time will tell where the story goes, but this title of the new movie certainly does not bode too well for our Rebels heroes.

Prelude to History: Why STAR TREK needs to get back to the Final Frontier

This summer CBS will air the first season of Star Trek: Discovery. This will be the first Star Trek TV show to air in twelve years. As a result, you'd expect fans to be excited and energised by the prospect of new adventures on the final frontier.

This doesn't really to be the case, however. News about Discovery has been greeted with polite interest, a patter of discussion, but not the enthusiasm you'd expect from a return to the Star Trek universe.

On the surface, the powers behind Discovery have made a lot of really good decisions. They hired Bryan Fuller, one of the most respected and critically-acclaimed showrunners around, to develop the concept and serve as showrunner. He later dropped out due to scheduling issues with his previous project for Starz, American Gods, but several episodes will remain with his writing credit on them, he will remain as a producer and the door appears to be open for him to return in a more active role in later seasons. More impressive was the decision to hire Nicholas Meyer as a writer and producer. As the co-writer and director of the movie Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, he is credited with single-handedly saving the Star Trek franchise from oblivion in 1982. He went to direct Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country and co-wrote Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, therefore having a hand in the three most critically-acclaimed Star Trek movies.

Casting has likewise been well-received. Sonequa Martin-Green is a good performer on The Walking Dead but has arguably been under-utilised on that show. Putting her in a different role, as Lt. Commander Rainsford, an officer on the USS Discovery and the focal point of the series, is an interesting move. Doug Jones is a talented performer with many interesting collaborations with Guillermo Del Toro under his belt. Michelle Yeoh, of course, has been a tremendously skilled and respected actress ever since her star-making turn in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. And if you need to recast Sarek, then you could certainly do far worse than the versatile and intense James Frain in the role.

One of the most popular moves has been the decision to set the show in the original or "Prime" timeline. For those unfamiliar with the situation, the Star Trek universe was split into two distinct continuities by the events of the 2009 reboot move directed by J.J. Abrams. Star Trek: The Original Series, The Animated Series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and the first ten movies take place in the original continuity, whilst the three most recent films - Star Trek, Into Darkness and Beyond - all take place in the rebooted "Abramsverse", or "Kelvin timeline". The prequel series Star Trek: Enterprise, which takes place before the split in the timeline, exists in both. Although Abrams's glossy, Apple-aesthetic-channelling movies have been moderately successful (although falling short of Paramount's expectations), they have had a much more divisive critical reception and long-term Star Trek fans seem to regard them ambivalently, appreciating them for driving a new generation of fans to the franchise but less keen on their much looser commitment to real science and their overwhelming reliance on explosions and violence to solve problems.

The expectation was that any new show would also take place in the Abramsverse, but this was cast into doubt by the fact that Star Trek is no longer owned by one entity, with Paramount controlling the film rights and CBS owning the TV rights. With the new Abramsverse movies post-dating that split, CBS has no automatic legal right to the films and would have to strike up a new deal with Paramount to make one, and that would cost serious money (especially since Paramount and CBS have not been on good terms for a while). Clearly CBS decided it was not worth it and opted to simply set the show in the existing Prime timeline. Although largely irrelevant to a casual audience, this move please long-term Star Trek fans who either hated the Abrams movies or enjoyed them as, at best, a Marvel Ultimates-style alternate-but-limited take on established material, but not something that should supplant the originals.

However, since then many of CBS's announcements have been regarded with a lukewarm reception. One of these is technical and, I suspect, will not last the course, whilst the second is creative and delves much more deeply into the problems Star Trek has had in drumming up excitement since at least 2001, if not before. Let's deal with the bigger problem first.

Another streaming service. Yay.

This is a uniquely American problem, since in the rest of the world CBS has very sensibly sold the rights to the new series to Netflix, which is already showing the entire Star Trek franchise worldwide. This is quite a coup for Netflix and leads to the - somewhat bizarre - situation where British and German Star Trek fans are getting ready to watch the show on their existing service with no further hoops to jump through. But in the USA, where the majority of Star Trek fandom resides, this is not the case. CBS has instead chosen Star Trek: Discovery to lead its new digital streaming service, CBS All Access. The first episode of Discovery will air on CBS itself and subsequent episodes will be exclusive to the new service, in the hope that viewers will be impressed and sign up immediately. To put it mildly, this has gone down like a lead balloon.

American TV fans and viewers will already be subscribing to either (or both) Netflix and Amazon Prime. Many will also be subscribing to Hulu and HBO Go. There's also Sling Orange, PlayStation Vue, Seeso and a number of other options, including traditional cable. Introducing a further streaming service on top of this, a late entry in an already saturated market at a point when American viewers may be feeling economically squeezed, feels like an unwise decision. There are many Star Trek fans saying flatly they will wait for the DVD/Blu-Rays, or even illegally download the show over paying an additional premium on top of the other, far larger and more varied services they are already signed up to. Even if we assume many will change their tune, especially if Discovery's first episode knocks it out of the park (Star Trek doesn't exactly have great pilot form, however), this is certainly something contributing to the lack of excitement over the show.

To boldly go...where we've been before. Many times.

Far more a serious a problem for Discovery is the fact that it's a prequel. Again.

Let's break this down. Star Trek: Enterprise (which aired from 2001 to 2005) was a prequel, set 100 years before the original series. The Ambramsverse movies return to the setting of the original five-year mission. Star Trek: Voyager (1995-2001) was set after the other series, but for all but the closing moments of its last episode it was set on the other side of the galaxy to the Federation and Earth. Aside from a few brief communications here and there in Voyager, the Star Trek setting and universe has not moved or evolved forward in any substantial way since the final episode of Deep Space Nine aired in 1999. For a franchise that's based on the premise of going out into space and exploring new frontiers, it's instead been spinning around in circles for almost twenty years.

Star Trek fans seem to be keen for a new show set a generation or two after the Next Generation/Deep Space Nine/Voyager period which features new technology, new ideas and new characters. Such a show could be as divorced from previous continuity or reliant on it as the producers wanted, but it would have absolute and complete freedom to do whatever it wanted. Discovery, like Enterprise before it, will be a show wearing a continuity straitjacket. Every story, worldbuilding and character decision they make has to be carefully scrutinised in case it conflicts with what has been established before.

This isn't to say that you can't have entertaining and interesting stories within those narrow confines, like Enterprise (occasionally) did, but it does make it a lot harder. It also introduces significant amounts of work for the writers to make sure they're not contradicting things established elsewhere.

A prequel or interquel could actually be quite interesting if it was set in a different part of the history. There was a strong rumour during early development that the new show would be set in the seventy-year gap between the start of the movie Star Trek: Generations and the start of Star Trek: The Next Generation. During this time period there were two starship Enterprises (the B and the C), the fate of the first of which is unknown, and there were plenty of interesting things going on in the background with the Klingons and Romulans but without a lot of detailed continuity to get bogged down in. This would have been more fertile and interesting ground to cover, with the bonus that the setting would have even allowed for cameos by surviving original series actors George Takei, Walter Koenig and Nichelle Nichols.

A second rumour was that the new series would be a Fargo-style show which changed timeframe and setting for each season, but where everything still happened in the same universe. So Season 1 might have been a prequel set on a starship, the second during the height of the Dominion War, the third on a Klingon starship and so on. With the broad canvas of the Star Trek universe to draw upon, this idea was also quite exciting and fans started speculating about what settings could be used.

The final announcement - that the show will instead be set ten years before The Original Series, in the same narrative space as The Original Series and the Abramsverse movies - couldn't help but be underwhelming in comparison. That's already a well-ploughed field. Also, if as seems possible, the new show expands on the Four Year War and the Axanar Incident, that may also annoy and alienate fans of the Star Trek: Axanar fan project, which was recently cancelled through legal action. Although CBS and Paramount were legally in the right to do this, since they own all the copyrights involved, if the new, official TV series ends up using the same story and idea, that may also result in claims of plagiarism or intellectual dishonesty.

To be clear, Star Trek: Discovery looks like it has a lot of impressive creative power behind and in front of the screen. A Star Trek series with shorter, more focused seasons that cut out the awful filler (although we hope that excellent stand-alone stories still make it in) and have more serialised storytelling sounds very interesting, especially one with such an enormous budget. I suspect it'll be quite a good show. But even if it's the best Star Trek show ever, there's going to be severe constraints over what it could do and where it could go in the future.

The hope for a lot of Star Trek fans is that Discovery will do well enough for more shows to be commissioned, and one will finally get back to what the franchise needs to be: exploring new worlds, new places and new civilisations.


Lucasfilm have confirmed that the next Star Wars movie will be called The Last Jedi.

Lucasfilm broke the news this morning. Director Rian Johnson has said that the film actually had that title on its very first script draft, delivered two years ago, and there hadn't been much discussion about it (whilst apparently both The Force Awakens and Rogue One had a bit more discussion to them).

The title sounds ominous, but it's been pointed out that "Jedi" is both singular and plural, so it can refer to Luke Skywalker or his presumed new apprentice Rey, or both.

The new film picks up at the precise moment The Force Awakens ends and will see Luke helping Rey gain control of the Force whilst Supreme Leader Snoke helps heal and (presumably) train his apprentice Kylo Ren, who was seriously wounded at the end of the previous movie. In the meantime, Leia continues to lead the Resistance in its battle against the First Order, presumably aided by Poe Dameron and his plucky X-wing pilots, as well as ex-stormtrooper Finn.

The film will feature the final appearance of Carrie Fisher as General Leia Organa (unless material is held back for Episode IX), as she had completed filming for the movie before she passed away last month. Leia had been scheduled to play a larger role in Episode IX, but Lucasfilm and director Colin Trevorrow have already met to decide on how to proceed. It is understood that CGI of the type used to briefly resurrect Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin in Rogue One will not be employed.

Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi will be released on 15 December this year. Episode IX is pencilled in for release two years later, with a "young Han Solo" prequel movie slated for release inbetween.

Friday, 20 January 2017

STAR TREK: DISCOVERY delayed yet again

CBS has announced that they are no longer wedded to the May launch date for Star Trek: Discovery and the show will instead launch when it's ready.

The announcement comes just before the starting of filming, which is due to start on Monday in Toronto, and just after the news that James Frain will be joining the cast as Spock's father, Sarek. It came after a previous delay from January to May, brought about by behind-the-scenes changes (such as Bryan Fuller's departure as showrunner, although he remains attached as co-writer and producer) and a longer-than-expected casting period.

Part of the problem seems to be that CBS was treating this like a prestige cable project, with an enormous budget ($6 million per episode, or more than twice the American average), but also seemed to want it on a standard network turnaround time of just a few weeks from shooting to transmission. Clearly now they've realised that this is not going to be possible and are instead going to give the show time to breathe during production.

Star Trek: Discovery is set about ten years before the events of Star Trek: The Original Series and will depict the voyages of the USS Discovery as it becomes embroiled in an event important to the backstory of the original series (possibly the Four Year War against the Klingons). It will still launch in 2017, possibly the summer, on CBS before moving to CBS All-Access. It will air in Netflix in most overseas territories.

For those who want their space opera fix a bit sooner, the second season of The Expanse launches on SyFy (in the US) and Netflix (almost everywhere else) on 1 February.

WEREWOLF: THE APOCALYPSE game in development

A couple of years back Paradox Entertainment bought White Wolf, the company behind the World of Darkness, a horror setting for a family of roleplaying games, the best-known of which is Vampire: The Masquerade. It's now been announced that a new computer roleplaying game in the setting is in development, based on Vampire's sister game Werewolf: The Apocalypse.

The new game, curiously, is not being released by Paradox. It's instead being developed by Cyanide, the French studio behind Blood Bowl and the so-so 2012 Game of Thrones RPG, and being released by Focus Interactive. This makes me wonder if the development deal pre-dates White Wolf's acquisition, as there doesn't seem much logic to them doing this and not Paradox themselves.

Hopefully the new game will be good, although Cyanide's track record has been spotty. What gamers have been hoping for is a new Vampire game, especially given Paradox's alliance with Obsidian, where some of the developers of the well-received 2004 RPG Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines are now working. Time will tell whether that intriguing possibility comes to light.


Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 games are being announced and released faster than rounds from a Space Marine autocannon these days, and surprisingly most of them seem to be falling into the category of "okay", with a few, such as Total Warhammer, being very good indeed.

The latest title, released today, is Sanctus Reach. This game is significant because it does what Warhammer fans have wanted for decades: translating the tabletop wargame directly into a PC game. The result is a strategic, turn-based wargame pitting the Space Wolves (one of the numerous chapters of Space Marines) against the Orks for control of the Sanctus system. If successful, there will no doubt be several hundred expansions adding other races and factions. The game has so far reviewed well, with the main criticism being about the limited animations (which could be tightened up in patches). Importantly, the gameplay sounds pretty solid.

Upcoming games include Necromunda, an adaptation of the popular Warhammer 40,000 spin-off boardgame focusing on gang warfare on an human hive world, and the eagerly-awaited Dawn of War III, an epic real-time strategy game from Relic Entertainment. Recent games in the setting include Vermintide, Deathwing and Space Hulk (in two distinct editions).

Thursday, 19 January 2017

RIP Miguel Ferrer

Hollywood actor Miguel Ferrer has passed away at the age of 61.

Ferrer was a Hollywood mainstay in the 1980s. His credit of genre note was the helm officer of the USS Excelsior in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984), but his first big role was in RoboCop (1987), where he played the executive in charge of the RoboCop project whose murder provides a major impetus for Murphy's actions later in the film. He would go on to appear in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992), Hot Shots! Part Deux (1993), The Stand mini-series (1994), Traffic (2000) and Iron Man 3 (2013). His TV roles included CHiPs (1983), TJ Hooker (1985), Miami Vice (1987-89) and Twin Peaks (1990-91), as well as a long-running role on Crossing Jordan (2001-07).

Ferrer had a lower profile in movies in recent years, having discovered a successful new career at the turn of the century as a voice-over artist in animation (mostly in the DC Animated Universe) and video games (such as Halo 2). However, he had kept busy with a recurring role on the TV show NCIS: Los Angeles. He had also already completed filming his return as FBI forensic pathologist Albert Rosenfield for the new series of Twin Peaks, which will start airing on 21 May 2017.

XCOM 2: LONG WAR 2 released

In a surprise move, the Long War 2 mod for XCOM 2 has been released on PC. During discussions earlier in the week no release date was given and it was assumed that it was still months away. But instead it's out now.

Long War 2 radically enhances the strategy game, adds a new soldier class (three if you count those incorporated from other mods) and gives the player many more options for fighting the alien menace, although the aliens also have more abilities to counter-attack. The early reception for the mod sounds highly positive.

The mod is available via Steam completely free of charge.

BBC and Amazon join forces on GOOD OMENS TV series

The classic fantasy novel Good Omens, co-written by Neil Gaiman and the late Sir Terry Pratchett, is being brought to television as a co-production between the BBC and Amazon Studios, under the supervision of Narrativia, the production company set up by Pratchett before his death.

Gaiman will write the series and serve as executive produce and showrunner. Caroline Skinner and Chris Sussman will produce for the BBC and Rob Wilkins and Rod Brown for Narrativa. The series will consist of six hour-long episodes and will debut on the BBC and Amazon Prime in 2018.

The novel, originally published in 1990, tells the story of the Apocalypse, with the forces of good and evil preparing for the final showdown with Earth caught in the middle. However, both angel Aziraphale and demon Crowley have gotten used to life on Earth and decide to join forces to halt the Apocalypse. This means tracking down the Antichrist, who has gone missing. Much confusion and hilarity results.